“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was. Likewise, I never imagined that home might be something I would miss.”
― Ransom Riggs
In two weeks, I will be back at work for the first time in nearly ten years.
I should add the word “paid.” I will be back doing paid work. I’ve worked hard raising my babies, being a single mom, volunteering, carpooling, showing up at every school and sporting event, doing a little bit of freelancing, and managing a whole lot of things including a high-conflict divorce with a
vicious lunatic high-conflict individual.
As much as I’ve cherished these days at home with my children, I’ve paid a steep price for them. Nine years ago, I chose to become financially dependent on someone who wasn’t dependable. To be fair to myself, I did not know this at the time – he was employed in a high-profile and lucrative job. But there were already serious cracks in my marriage, and I should have known better than to become financially dependent on him.
As one working mom says, “It’s always a huge risk to become dependent on someone else.” I always wondered if maybe this sounded a bit cynical, but now I understand it. It’s a risk, like everything else.
As Leslie Bennetts says on NBC Today Money:
But in 21st century America, it has never been more clear that choosing economic dependency as a lifestyle is the classic feminine mistake. No matter what the reasons, it’s simply too risky to count on a man to take care of you over the long haul.
Half of all marriages end in divorce; the average age of widowhood in America is 54; and by the time women reach 60, two-thirds of them no longer have partners. Even those in lasting marriages must contend with an insecure labor market in which many men lose their jobs at some point — a hardship that proves especially painful for families who rely on a single breadwinner.
Meanwhile women’s life spans have doubled in the last century. The result is that American women are now twice as likely to slide below the poverty line as men in their later years — and 80 percent of those women were not poor before they lost their breadwinners. And yet our culture continues to encourage the fairy-tale fantasy that women should devote themselves to marriage and family, in return for which Prince Charming will take care of them forever.
I look around, and most people in my affluent neighborhood seem to be beating the divorce odds. I am glad for them and their children. But still I wonder. Just today I heard of another impending divorce. Plus, our children are young, and everyone says that the divorces start snowballing in a few years. We will catch up with the statistics.
As a divorced friend likes to say about us divorced moms: “We are the early adaptors.”
And so I adapt. I found a job because I need to work. We need the money. We need the benefits. And I need to do this as a step on a path that is taking me upwards and away from my soon-to-be-ex who has held me back for too many years. I gave up my first career when I moved to his city to marry him. I loved that career, and I was good at it. I have wanted to go back home, to the greatest city in the world, for many years, but soon-to-be-ex always put his own career first.
My new job seems doable and possibly interesting and even involves a little writing. But it’s not where I would be if I had worked for the past nine years. I will earn less significantly money that I was making nine years ago. That is another price that women pay when they stay at home. I recently read a statistic that women lose 4 percent of their earning potential for every year they stay out of the workforce. When I calculate my income, I’m beating these odds, but not by as much as I would like.
I haven’t yet told my children that I’m going back to work, though I have tested the waters. “Hey, if I did more work at an office, how would you feel about having a babysitter pick you up from school and help you with your homework? I’ll be home by dinner.”
My son was enthusiastic. His babysitters are way more fun than me.
My daughter was wary. “Not every day, right?” she asked.
I told her I was still working it out. I thought my heart would break.
I will miss these days, and the rhythms of a stay-at-home-mom. The quiet supermarkets and the friendliness of the cashiers when they see my kids. The spotlessly clean house, time to spray-and-wash the laundry. The coffees and walks with my friends and the gym. Checking my children’s homework every night and working on dioramas and homemade cookies and art projects. Or calling and checking in with a teacher when my intuition tells me that my child needs help. The time to be the kind of mom I want to be.
Or even the time to buy soccer cleats and ballet leotards and paper towels and gas. To go on school field trips. Or let’s face it, to take a long nap after a court hearing or when soon-to-be-ex has lobbed his latest crazy accusations against me.
I could go on. The time to take care of my children when they are sick. Teacher workdays. Trips to the pumpkin patch. Bringing my children to the dentist myself.
I’m afraid these days are over.
I think I might miss the drive home from school the most. It’s the time when my children just talk. I just listen. I get to hear it all – the good, the bad, the ugly. What the notorious “Nate the Not Great” has done to upset my daughter today, and what her friends have said to make her laugh. Whether my son has scored any goals at recess, and if his teacher rewarded him with a Hershey Kiss for good behavior.
These days are over.
But then I focus on the things I’ll still have. I still get to drive my children to school. We will have breakfast and dinner together. We’ll have a bit of time after dinner for bedtime and stories and hugs. Or maybe even a walk or evening swim. And I’ll have weekends and holidays. (Or at least half of the weekends and holidays, depending on how things go in court.)
It’s just a few less extra hours each day.
But I already miss these days. It’s bittersweet in the same way as watching your children grow up is bittersweet. You have to let go, more than you want to – you worry so much, and miss them so badly that it hurts.